Kenya's parliament is instigating a rare showdown with the country's president over the re-appointment of the country's anti-corruption czar, as the fury over the legally-questionable move by the head of state continues to grow. The United States embassy put out a strongly-worded statement saying it was "deeply concerned" with the government's action.
The government has been forced to withdraw an appropriations bill after rebellious parliament members threatened to strip the anti-corruption commission of all its funding until the matter was satisfactorily resolved. Those legislators say President Mwai Kibaki illegally sidestepped them when he granted the head of the nation's anti-corruption commission an additional five-year term.
Some parliament members from the president's party are also taking part in the act of defiance. MP Mutava Musyimi explained to his peers the corruption issue has forced him to cross against the government side.
"Mr. Speaker, we must reject this position. Corruption is one of our biggest problems, Mr. Speaker. It has eaten into our very existence. It is a national problem. It has brought us to near poverty,"he said. "It has introduced conflict and brought a lot of other problems. Mr. Speaker, if we do not take a position on this job, we are saying that we are happy with corruption, we are saying that we can continue with business as usual. Mr. Speaker, I stand to oppose."
The anti-corruption head, Aaron Ringera, is Kenya's highest-paid civil servant, earning more per year than the nation's president. He has led the anti-corruption commission since it was created in 2003, and his tenure has been widely criticized for failing to tackle any serious corruption case.
Critics say under Kenyan law the director is to be nominated by an independent advisory board and then approved by Parliament. The advisory board says it was not consulted on the re-appointment.
Kenya's executive fired back against its critics, saying the power to re-appoint fell within the president's broad powers. The Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Mutula Kilonzo, told the president's critics to take the matter to the courts.
"The president was acting within the law and did not breach any provisions of law,"said Kilonzo. And above all, in a country that respects the rule of law, if you find that the president may have overstepped or understepped any particular law, the courts are still available."
The Kenyan judiciary has been ranked by independent watchdogs as being highly corrupt and is widely viewed as being heavily influenced by those in power.
The U.S. government joined in the chorus of criticism, issuing a statement that described the performance of the anti-corruption commission under Ringera's leadership as "poor" and questioned the manner in which he was re-appointed. The statement urged the administration to re-examine the appointment, and pressured Kenya's leadership to consult with the nation's civil society on filling the position.
Mr. Kilonzo reacted harshly to the U.S. statement.
"I want to tell the American ambassador: Please shut up. Please, just shut up," he said.
The uproar from Parliament is a rare moment for the legislative body, which is often accused by Kenyans of being overpaid and negligent. Kenya's parliament has historically wielded very little power relative to the nation's president.